From the desk of The Movie Snob.
21 Jump Street (B). I have never seen the late 1980s TV show that inspired this movie, and there may have been some inside jokes that went over my head. But I still enjoyed this somewhat shaggy tale about a couple of rookie cops who go undercover as high-school students to try to bust a dangerous drug ring. The buddy cops are good in their roles: Jonah Hill (Superbad) is Schmidt, who was an unpopular nerd in high school, and Channing Tatum (She’s the Man) is Jenko, who was a popular jock back in the day. But a mix-up in their class schedules accidentally sends Schmidt to mingle with the cool kids and Jenko to flounder with the nerds in AP chemistry. Of course, Jenko comes to regret his past as a mean jock, and Schmidt starts to forget his police assignment as he gets accepted by the cool kids. Ice Cube (Three Kings) has fun chewing the scenery as the buddies’ angry police captain. And yes, Johnny Depp (TV’s 21 Jump Street) does make an appearance. Rated R for lots of shoot-em-up violence but mainly, I expect, for constant bad language and some crude sexual talk.
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Men in Black 3 (B+). It may have helped to go into this movie with low expectations. I have no real memory of the previous two movies in this series–just a faint recollection that I liked the first one okay and did not care for the second one. In any event, I thought this third installment was quite enjoyable. You may remember that Will Smith (Independence Day) and Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever) star as Agents J and K, who were part of a top-secret agency keeping tabs on extraterrestrials living and occasionally creating havoc among us. Well, this time they throw time travel into the mix, as Agent J has to go back to 1969 and see what’s happening with a much younger Agent K (Josh Brolin, True Grit). Emma Thompson (Dead Again) drops in unexpectedly as top agent O, and Nicole Scherzinger (TV’s Dancing With the Stars) also has a small role. It’s rated PG-13 for “sci-fi action violence and brief suggestive content,” and if you don’t like freaky and/or slimy aliens this is probably not the film for you. I got a kick out of it, though.
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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX. This boxed set of episodes came out in March 2011 and features four episodes from the Joel Hodgson years of the show. It’s a decent collection but doesn’t have any episodes that stand out as particularly awesome.
Project Moonbase (C+). The episode from MST‘s first season kicks off with two more episodes from the terrible TV series Commando Cody & The Radar Men From the Moon. Maybe they’re just wearing me down, but I thought these episodes were fairly entertaining. The main event is a terrible 1953 sci-fi movie about an American space mission to orbit the moon and a foreign spy/saboteur who manages to con his way on board. There are a couple of astonishing things about this movie. First, sci-fi legend Robert Heinlein (author, Starship Troopers) has a writing credit (although I understand that he dissociated himself from the project long before it was finished). Second, the good old-fashioned sexism of the day is truly mind-boggling, as the mission is placed under the command of a woman (Colonel Briteis, pronounced “Bright Eyes) who leans on her male second-in-command to do pretty much everything of consequence during the mission. The pre-launch scene in which a general threatens to give her a spanking is particularly priceless.
Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II (B-). These two episodes are cobbled together from a short-lived 1984 TV show called The Master, which starred Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) as an aging master ninja who roams about America looking for the daughter he apparently never knew he had. He teams up with the often-incomprehensible Timothy Van Patten (TV’s The White Shadow), who’s the half-brother of the beloved Dick Van Patten (TV’s Eight is Enough). I’m not clear on whether the TV eps were ever actually released as movies too, but here the MST gang simply stuck two episodes together for each “movie” they rip apart. Demi Moore (Ghost) and Crystal Bernard (TV’s Wings) are among the guest stars who were unlucky enough to have to pretend to fall for the unappealing Van Patten. Decently entertaining episodes.
The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (B). Schlockmeister Roger Corman (producer, Dinocroc) bought the rights to this 1953 Soviet movie and dubbed it into English for the least Arabian Sinbad the world has ever seen. This is the most entertaining episode of the four, with lots of good riffing on our square-jawed hero’s outlandish quests to bring riches to the poor people of Copasand, to find the fabled Bluebird of Happiness, and finally to escape from the undersea kingdom of the henpecked King Neptune. According to an interview with MST cast member Trace Beaulieu, this is one of the most popular MST episodes ever, and it really is pretty good.
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Dark Shadows (D). Who would have thought that a joint enterprise by director Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) and actor Johnny Depp (the same) could turn out to be so deathly dull? Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy fellow in colonial Maine who gets turned into a vampire and buried in a chained-up coffin by a wicked witch (Eva Green, Casino Royale). Fast forward 200 years to the early 1970s. BC is set free and makes his way back to his ancestral mansion where the last few members of the Collins family live in a state of advanced aristocratic decay. Oh, and the witch is still hanging around the area causing trouble for the Collinses. Previews suggested that the film was a comedy, but it is not funny. (Gags involving BC’s encounters with “modern” phenomena like lava lamps and the Carpenters inevitably fall flat.) Nor is it exciting, scary, romantic, dramatic, or anything else that might make it the slightest bit interesting. Avoid it unless you have 2 hours you really need to waste.
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – B
Based upon the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Maggoch, this small but enjoyable film has a star studded cast of retired Brits who find themselves in a run-down (read barely livable) hotel in Jaipur. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Evelyn (Judi Dench) must find a cheaper lifestyle after the death of her husband reveals a mountain of debt; Muriel (Maggie Smith) agrees to have hip surgery in India rather than wait 6 months in the British health care system; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are forced to find a less expensive retirement option after a bad investment; Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are looking for relationships; and Graham (Tom Wilkinson) wants to return to the days of his youth. Sonny (Dev Patel—Slumdog Millionaire) is the third son who inherited the dilapidated hotel upon his father’s death and dreams of restoring it to its former glory. Sonny’s enthusiasm is contagious but his business acumen is lacking. The retirees are thrust into the loud, colorful, chaotic culture shock of India and each deals with it in different (perhaps predictable) ways.
The acting is top-notch. We rarely see Smith play a working class character; she does it well even if her transformation from racist to fully integrated in the Indian culture is a bit abrupt. Dench and Nighy work seamlessly well together. Wilkinson may have more screen time and believably pulls off his mission to find the man of his youth who was the love of his life. Much of the action takes place in the hotel; thus, the sights and sounds of India are more of a backdrop than main character. A good popcorn flick—seemed to attract the gray haired crowd—but can be enjoyed by all.
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What to Expect When You’re Expecting: What do you get when you combine a terrible screenplay, miscast actors, and frenzied film direction? You get a film that will surely be nominated for a Razzie award this December. WTEWYAE is based on the best-selling book of the same name. I read portions of the book when my wife was pregnant; she read the book at least twice. While the book was beneficial, anecdotal, and entertaining, the movie was uneventful, dumb, humorless, and a black hole of fun. It is about five couples (an A-list cast with nothing to work with) that are dealing with the various stages of the pregnancy. If I was presented with the choice of giving birth to a child without an epidural or seeing this movie again, I would have a serious decision on my hands. GRADE: BIG FAT F!
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Chimpanzee (B). I just saw the latest offering from the Disney-nature people, and it was pretty good. It’s the story of a smallish group of chimpanzees living in the African rainforest, and in particular about one young chimpanzee dubbed Oscar. The filmmakers follow Oscar from his birth through the first few years of his life, effectively showing how he and the other chimps scratch a living out of the jungle. As you know if you’ve seen any of the previews, there is conflict and tragedy too, as a larger group of chimps from a neighboring territory launches an invasion into Oscar’s home turf. But the movie soft-pedals the tragedy, showing no disturbing images and instead using a lot of ominous music over shots of chimps running at or away from each other. The narration by Tim Allen is over the top and should have been pared back, and the filmmakers definitely shied away from showing the “red in tooth and claw” aspect of life in the jungle, but it was still an enjoyable little nature documentary.
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The Pirates! Band of Misfits (C-). This animated (claymation, actually) feature just didn’t do it for me. Maybe you have to be British? Our hero is a fellow with a luxuriant beard who is known only as The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant, About a Boy). TPC is singularly bad at plundering, and his gentle crew is more excited by ham night than by the prospect of danger, but he nevertheless dreams of winning the Pirate of the Year award. Then they run across Charles Darwin, who recognizes that the crew’s “parrot” Polly is actually the last surviving dodo, and he promises everyone untold enriches if they will just take Polly to London for the Scientist of the Year awards. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria absolutely HATES pirates. The visuals were nice, but the story was nothing special, and it just wasn’t very funny. But maybe it’s just me; the film has a metascore of 73 over on Metacritic.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Avengers (B). No point in a long review of this one. If you like movies based on comic-book superheroes, then it’s pretty certain you’re going to like this movie. It definitely held my attention; I went to a late show that didn’t wrap up until close to 1:00 a.m., and I was never in danger of falling asleep. Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man) has plenty of good one liners, Tom Hiddleston (Thor) makes for a pretty good villain as Loki, and tons of stuff gets blown up real good. And it didn’t feel 2 1/2 hours long.
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The Five-Year Engagement (C). I was a little disappointed in this new rom-com produced by Judd Apatow (director of films like The 40-Year Old Virgin). I had seen the trailer for this film a million times, and I was sort of afraid that all the funny parts were in the trailer. Weirdly, a couple of the funny parts were only in the trailer–they weren’t actually in the movie at all! Anyhoo, the premise is that these two really super-nice people, Tom (Jason Segel, The Muppets) and Violet (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who live in San Francisco, get engaged, but then they postpone their wedding because Violet lands an academic position in remote Ann Arbor, Michigan. And then they postpone it again because Violet’s two-year contract gets extended, which really takes a toll on their relationship. Tom and Vi are nice, but they’re not funny (and I’d agree with John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard that Segel and Blunt unfortunately have very little chemistry). And as the movie drags on for its two-hour running time, Tom and Vi’s relationship problems just become a drag. Nevertheless, I did get a few laughs out of the movie, mainly thanks to the antics of the supporting characters. (And no thanks to the worn-out cliche of the inappropriate/profane rehearsal-dinner toast.) It was nice to see cute Alison Brie of TV’s Community as Violet’s sister Suzie, but she wasn’t given enough to do in my opinion. Bottom line: very skippable.
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The Cabin in the Woods (B). Horror is probably my least favorite genre, but I will see a gorefest every once in a blue moon. I had heard that this one was critically acclaimed for involving some new twists on the old slasher theme, so when a friend invited me to go I said sure. It was pretty entertaining. From the very start of the movie, we are constantly cutting back and forth between (1) a merry band of five college kids heading off for a weekend at the titular cabin and (2) some high-tech scientific base where a couple of older guys in white coats are directing a huge team of people who are monitoring and possibly controlling everything the five youths are doing. But why? Why are these ordinary-looking engineer types so concerned with these kids, and why have they perfectly replicated so many classic horror-movie clichés, like the creepy weirdo at the creepy last-chance gas station, the creepy cabin beyond GPS and cellphone range, and the creepy cellar full of creepy dolls, masks, and ancient diaries? I was pretty entertained as the details enfolded. And yes, be warned that the five youths have plenty of hideous and bloody encounters. They must have spent a fortune on fake blood! The actors were mostly unknown to me, but Kristen Connolly (TV’s As the World Turns) does a nice job as the heroine of the quintet.